HELLO. I AM a coffee cherry.
We don’t know each other very well, although you probably are intimately familiar with part of me — the inside part, the seed — because it is one of the most widely traded commodities in the world: coffee. I know you love coffee. It’s my most popular work, among the masses, and I’m really grateful for how much you people drink.
But I am so much more than coffee. I am also tea.
OK, well not tea, exactly — I am not made of tea leaves. Coffee cherry tea, or “cascara” as it is usually called here, is actually a “tisane,” another word for herbal or fruit “tea.” I know that’s a lot of quote marks, but people get very fussy about these things in the specialty coffee and tea world. (And this is not to be confused with the unrelated local tree Cascara Sagrada, the bark of which, taken as a tea, has laxative properties. So don’t worry: If you order cascara at a coffee shop, you definitely are getting coffee cherry tea.) Among gourmands, I’m told the taste of cascara is a revelation — crisp, refreshing, with notes of honey and flowers, and so tart your lips appear to kiss the air.
As cascara, I am made from the dried fruit and skins of coffee cherry plants (cascara means “husk” in Spanish), the bit that is removed during processing of the all-important beans: a vibrant, beautiful, glowing, fleshy red substance that is, all too often, thrown out.
I am a fruit, people! I am a cherry! I am not some mere … shudder … nut. I suppose you all forget that because I cannot be consumed raw (by humans, anyway; civet cats manage somehow). Admittedly, I am no good in pies, and cannot even be embalmed and then used in cocktails as a chewable metaphor for innocence, like some other cherries I could name. I know I am grown for the seed, and I am not ungrateful. But how would you feel if you knew that the most valuable thing about you was your skeleton? Wouldn’t it give you fits of nihilistic misery?
And, my friends, cascara is so easy to prepare. It does not need to be ground into some finicky powder. Simply spoon about three tablespoons of dried coffee cherry flesh into a tea bag (or tea ball; I’m easy); steep it in hot water for three to four minutes; and, without any further fol-de-rol with gadgets and plungers and siphons, you can simply drink the red-tinted, sweet-tart nectar that results.
In this form, I am good hot. I am great iced. I absolutely do not need added sugar. And believe it or not, cascara is even caffeinated, so you can drink it in the morning — dare I say it — instead of consuming the desiccated powder of what I consider the least interesting part of me. But I’m still less caffeinated than coffee, so you can drink it in the afternoon! Some people (those with more discriminating palates) think cascara is better than coffee in some ways: the Solange to coffee’s Beyoncé.
Although my potential as a tisane largely has languished in obscurity in most of the world, cascara is a very old drink for some. People have long enjoyed it in Yemen, where they call it Qishr, and they practically invented coffee.
But in most of the world, it is a fairly new concept. The fancy coffee people know it, of course, and it received some notoriety as a blended-frothed beverage at that most ubiquitous of Seattle-based corporations, Starbucks. You would think this would have been the tipping point for full recognition, but alas, I suspect most people just think cascara is some sort of squeezable flavor, like pumpkin spice or unicorn. For the real stuff, you can ask at your local third-wave coffee shop — they sometimes will serve it or, at least, sell it by the pound, like coffee. Or, if you really love it, and you will, buy cascara online. I know you can find it on that other Seattle-based mega-conglomerate website, too.